The average life expectancy in the UK has been increasing year after year according to the Office for National Statistics, and we are now expected to live up to 30 years longer than we were a century ago.
With a longer life expectancy comes a longer working life and more over 65s working than ever before – employers are having to consider the needs, benefits and differences when it comes to employing older workers.
But what does this mean for the employees themselves? How does the working world feel about employing mature adults?
Often the benefits of having a workforce including a variety of ages is overlooked, and both employees and employers tend to underestimate the advantages of having mature workers in favour of young fresh faces.
Well, if you are a mature adult looking for work, or an employer wanting to diversify your workforce, see what other employers have to say about the ins and outs of the older workforce. The answers might surprise you.
The Benefits of Hiring Older Employees
Work Experience & Life Skills
It may come as no surprise that often older workers have more experience than their younger counterparts, with more years under their belts being part of the working world. Alongside the experience gained in the job sector they are interested in, a study by The Department of Work and Pensions expressed that mature employees also had valuable life experience such as having good people skills, being able to take on more responsibility and knowledge of how to manoeuvre the working world. This ranges from time management to organisational skills. They also found that mature workers were more likely to keep calm under pressure and be adaptable to change.
An article by Forbes discusses the many skills mature workers could bring to the workforce, and highlighted the fact that many older employees had experience of the successes and failures of both previous personal projects and industry projects. This gave the businesses a valuable insight into what would/would not work in their future endeavours.
Longevity & Reliability
Another key benefit that working with mature adults tended to bring, was the fact that on average they stayed with the company longer than younger workers. Although this may not be a surprising revelation, as younger workers tend to have other life ambitions (university, changing careers, moving away etc.) it is an often overlooked advantage to employing mature workers. Older employees also tend to have less childcare responsibilities due to their children often being older; therefore they needed less flexible working hours and time off than other workers.
What About the Needs of Mature Workers?
One of the main questions raised when discussing mature workers, is the different needs they might have to a younger workforce. Health issues is a topic which often arises, as it may be assumed that an older worker will take more sick days, need more adjustment to the work they do and might stay with the company for a shorter time period due to health issues. In the Department of Work and Pensions study, some employers did state that it was a query they had before interviewing potential employees; but their fears were quickly squashed when they met the candidates in person, as they had perhaps a preconceived idea of a mature worker not being as enthusiastic and able as a younger worker.
The employers in this study expressed that in fact workers with young children generally needed more time off and flexible working due to childcare responsibilities, and workers of all ages could be affected by mental health issues. The health of mature workers didn’t generally affect their work, however it was highlighted that physical health problems would likely need to be accommodated for within more physical roles such as cleaners or builders.
The Employee's View
A study in The Gerontologist found that 30% of older employees feel that ageism and an assumption of their abilities due to age was a barrier to employment. Although some of the mature workers did have health issues and were concerned about the effects they may have on their work, many other felt that employers had a “glass ceiling for those over 50” and judged them solely on the things they had done in the past rather than where they are or want to be now. This study highlights many issues that older workers face; primarily lack of confidence in themselves and the stereotyping of older people in the workplace. However, a comparison of these two studies suggests that perhaps communication is key…
According to The Office of National Statistics, the proportion of those aged 65 and over who work has almost doubled in 10 years
of people aged 65 and over in employment in the period for March to May 2006 (609,000)
of people aged 65 and over in employment in the period for May to June 2016
Communication is Key
When it comes to discussing age in the workplace, it can sometimes be a sensitive topic not only for the employee but also for the employer. One issue raised was that employers were hesitant to discuss issues relating to mature workers, whether it’s regarding health issues or pension plans. They expressed the concern over being seen as discriminatory if discussing these points with employees, so the workers would often have to raise the point instead. This leads to the conclusion that there needs to be more communication between mature workers and employees, and more public knowledge surrounding how to approach these topics and the discussion of employing mature workers in general.
The Differences Between Age Groups
Most of the employers who took part in the study by the Department of Work and Pensions, actually stated that they have a diverse workforce with a range of ages not because they intended to, but because they focus on the employability of candidates regardless of age. However, they found that employing workers of all ages had many advantages, including the fact that they often had complementary skills and could therefore bring different strengths to their roles and help each other with parts they may struggle with. For example, one employer stated that younger employers tended to have better IT skills, but older workers had better industry knowledge.
Considering mature workers within a business is an important aspect of having a diverse and successful workforce, and it appears that older employees are often regarded highly within the working world for their life skills, employment history and industry knowledge. However, employers can be wary of tackling sensitive age related topics for fear of being seen as discriminatory, and similarly, employees can be concerned that employers view them to have certain drawbacks due to their age (health, enthusiasm, IT skills etc).
In order to tackle this barrier both for employees applying for jobs and employers hiring mature adults, there needs to be more communication between staff and employers, as well as more public knowledge around approaching issues such as pensions and health.
Overall, having a diverse age range seems to benefit many businesses, and employers have found that both older and younger workers can often compliment one another’s skill set to being success to the business as a whole.
The Office for National Statistics, How has life expectancy changed over time?
The Department of Work and Pensions, Employer experiences of recruiting, retaining and retraining older workers
The Office of National Statistics, Five facts about older people at work
Forbes, Why older workers are a major value added to the workforce
The Gerontologist, Insights into the experiences of older workers and change: through the lens of selection, optimization, and compensation